Creek Sides has been layin' low in prepatory style to bring you some treats. Our mission as of late has been exploring the Olympic Peninsula. We've ventured to other parts of the state, too, but really need look no further than, literally... the west coast. Our latest adventure begins at some trailhead nestled deep in the woods, up the East Fork of the Quinault. Now the EF Quinault hosts its own share of goods and steeps, but for now we'll be ascending the steep walls of an EF tributary known as Big Creek to access the O.P. back country. Big Creek a.k.a. Three Lakes Trail, was the easiest way into this seldom run creek. We ran it last year and I had one of the most amazing adventures... to date. Of course we had to come back, with friends.
Tshletshy Creek, even the name is tough. Pronounced (ta-lee-chee), this Queets River tributary hosts some of the largest conifers on the west coast... or should I say.. the world. There are big trees all over this place mainly because the Olympic Peninsula is one of THE wettest places on earth. That makes for some healthy tree-sproutin' conditions. The forest is in a constant state of blossom, mature, destroy, blossom, mature and so on. Sometimes there are areas of pristine beauty, stands of trees left untouched for hundreds of years. Other times one may discover areas of blowdown or even washouts and large landslides where entire hillsides come down. And make no mistake, when a big old growth comes down it makes a sound... and leaves a mark. Sometimes man leaves a mark, too.
|going... the other way|
Elated to be on this trail with more friends this time, Scott Matthews and Scotty Baker joined Ryan and I for what is to be another grand adventure. Hike long enough and you'll begin to think about things, considering 'the big picture' more often than not. Taking in stellar views and interesting 'foresty type' things along the way to break up the monotony of 100 pounds of crap tied to your back.
The woods become an exploration of the soul. Obstacles along the path begin to mirror obstacles in life. Being in the woods and on these kinds of trips becomes meditative and gives me a moment to pause and embody 'the big picture'... but just for a moment... Then I have to stand up again... and start walking with a loaded boat. Last trip I swore I'd bring less, but I really think I brought more. Seems to be my meditation tool of choice.
There is something soothing about carrying all that weight for so many hours. Maybe the soothing lies in the brief moments of pause when I find a little stump or rock notch that will accommodate the stern of my boat. And Breathe. Maybe it's the solitary nature of expedition trips... you're with others, but much of the time you're by yourself. With yourself would be a better way to put it. Either way, Tshletshy Creek is a fine place to discover the woods, even if you don't bring a boat. The woods in this part of the park are simply magical and leave one pondering what lies in the next mile... or 10.
|EF Quinault scenery|
|difficult to capture the absolute majesty|
Once the initial shock of SENB (seemingly endless natural beauty) wears off, it's time to get to work. Following the directions in Korb's book we drive to the take out only to discover the bridge over Matheny is CLOSED. Turns out it's been closed for almost 10 years. Shoot. In the clutch we decide to simply take out... downstream of this bridge. Shoot, that's way easier than Robe Math. What's an extra 9 miles of loggy class II?? An hour or two of easy paddling at the end of a stellar multi-day trip.
|spotting our take out|
|marking our take out|
Being "seasoned" kayakers, we "marked" our take out. Then completed the shuttle and started packing crap into the backs of our boats. Finally made it to bed around midnight. Scotty Baker hadn't showed up yet and Scott Matthews was going to meet us a day later on trail?? or at least where the trail crosses the creek above the first canyon. A little loose, but the Tshletshy valley isn't that big... what could possibly go wrong?
A semi-mad rush ensued the following morning, even though it took us a couple of hours to finish packing our boats and get on trail. Good thing we got an earlier start this trip. There's about 10 feet of snow at the low saddle this time. After packing and a few snapshots we were on our way. I'm almost beside myself. I love this place. Sunny, not too hot, shaded for the most part. Perfect hiking weather. Within about 15 minutes I was sweating. I got ahead of Ryan and Scotty at the trailhead and I wanted to keep it that way. I knew if they got ahead of me I wouldn't see them again til dark. Within 20 minutes I was at my next 'photo op'!
|wood paddles make great expedition sticks|
|Three Lakes trailhead|
|feelin' badass... 8 minutes in|
|let the magic begin|
|still in the lead|
|2nd photo op: bye bye, Scotty...|
|the forest is full of magic|
We made it to the bridge over Big Creek (a great landmark) and took a long break. I was feeling awfully "off the couch" on this one and jacked up my knee a little earlier. UP didn't feel so good anymore. DOWN felt worse. I chose the better of the two and kept going. By now we had made about 1500' of el. gain and I think we were all about ready to be done for the day. Fortunately we still had plenty of daylight (and hill) left to go, so up we went. We made it to about 1800'?? and camped on the trail. I was beat, my knee hurt, and it was late. The outer battle was really complimenting my inner pain right now. One of the times I stood up with my boat and lost my balance must've torqued it a little too much. Trying to 'catch' a loaded boat on the way down isn't as easy as it sounds when it's strapped to your back.
We all found flat spots on the trail, had some good food, and relaxed. I got up early the next morning feeling pretty thirsty. Scotty and Ryan had found a tiny little spring dribbling from the hillside the night before. It was a-ways back down the trail, but man I needed some H2O stat! Once there, it was apparent I hadn't brought a water filter and the spring really was a dribble. There was a full water bottle, though, propped up with a couple small rocks to help direct the flow. I guzzled. It was a little 'minerally', but satisfying! I gimped back up to camp with some water for coffee and oatmeal. Went back down with my water filter later and pumped about a gallon of water for hiking and refreshment.
We were just about to break camp after a satisfying breakfast when who shows up on the trail, but Scott Matthews!!! He had arrived the night before and started his hike in the dark. Got a couple hours in, camped and started early, catching us about 9:30 or 10. Stoked to have the whole crew assembled at this point, but a little nervous because it seemed like Scott had just blazed up what took us all day to do. Little did we know he'd hiked the night before and started again much earlier this morning. At any rate, we were all glad to see one another and what a great place to meet! Hitting the trail by 10, not a bad way to go. Soon enough we hit snow and I think the snow line was actually lower this year (~2000') than last (~2800'). From here on out there was a LOT of snow. Route finding was straight forward for the most part, but once we got above Three Lakes the terrain got a little more challenging. Of course, we lost the trail in the snow long before Three Lakes and by the time we got above Three Lakes it was anyone's guess where the path of least resistance was. Of course, trails can switchback uphill, but when a guy is walking on 5-10 feet of snow the switchbacks just get buried and all that's left is the hillside terrain. Needless to say we had a fair amount of sidehilling. Not too steep, but definitely UP pretty much the whole way. The last push to the low saddle was the steepest and once all were at the top, we took a long break.
|Scott Matthews at first snow|
|a sketch little crossing|
|getting close to the low saddle|
|weather was more a concern this year|
The clouds had found us by late afternoon and it was starting to feel like work... Who was I kidding, the first day was work, this was grueling. Hundred pound boat, aching knee, sore body, freakin' parasite... hopefully the downhill starts soon. I knew that spring was gonna be bad news.
By 6 we were descending from the low saddle. It was getting cold, clouds were moving in, and we needed to find some dry land amid this winterscape. I've never had to sleep on snow, but I understand it can be less than desirable. Definitely had more of the white stuff this trip. Scott Matthews was motivated to keep going. He was also trying to recapture the trail amid the snow berms. He may have found it a couple times, but lost it pretty quickly. Scotty and Ryan blazed ahead and found a spot, right where the semi-flat ground was about to end. I was cold and exhausted. My stomach burned. We set up our tarps and beds. I went straight into my bag to warm up and fell asleep. Woke the next morning to a beautiful fog. Glimpses of the valley could be seen through towering high alpine trees. Chilly bliss. Felt a little better, so did the knee.
We were all kinda feeling it by this point. Sore and cold we pushed on, knowing the only remedy was moving to warm up muscles. With this much snow the hike into Tshletshy is punishing. Dressed and rolling by 8:30 was nice. Two hard-boiled eggs for breakfast go down okay on a queezy tummy. Scott Matthews had gone for a scout earlier and found a less-steep way down that didn't involve a rappel. Sweet. More DOWN and further downstream, finally we were walking along the rim of the headwaters canyon. Lots of cool slides, drops and 20-30 footers, all within a micro fantasy gorge. I was glad we had snow at the elevation because the 'cascade shrubbery' was pretty thick. I bet Korb fantasized about running these mini fantasy canyons on his trips through here. Unfortunately, this section had a lot of wood and not enough flow, mainly too much wood. Finally making it to a spot that didn't look too steep to run, we roped the boats down and put in!!
|first glimpse of Tshletshy!!|
|putting in a little higher than last year|
It was surreal climbing into this boat I've been carrying/dragging/hauling up and over a mountain for three days. I packed my stuff away, put gear on and slid into the water. Bang! Then a rock. Then pushed my way through the first drop. Watery wet bliss, I tell ya!!
|that's about 5 feet of snow up on the bank|
|authentic 'cascade shrubbery' in the distance|
|portages do happen|
From the sounds of it Scott's trips in here had a great many less portages and far less snow. Even the portaging isn't that bad (writer's note: this is only two weeks since the trip). Scenic indeed. Ryan even saw a bear on one of the portages. I guess the bear wanted to meet up, but took a wrong turn on the way over or something. Ryan didn't stick around to exchange pleasantries. I was behind not too far, don't know how I missed 'em.
We got through the first canyon, which had the same wood in the same spots as last year. A few new pieces had fallen in downstream of the main canyon, but nothing big. Got to the Tshlasm, which had its same issues and drops. Found a gravel bar downstream and camped. It was pretty nice, flat... spacious. No snow anywhere and we built a big fire. Everyone had dry gear in the morning. I ate a ton that night. At least two complete meals. Left that parasite at the put in, I think. It felt so good to be warm, dry, have a nice tarp set up and plenty of food for the morning! My knee was pretty jacked by now, so I was ready to boat anything. The day started with some portaging, but we were boating some good stuff in a reasonable amount of time. The fourth canyons, referred to as The Love Boat Gorge, threatened to box up the whole way through. If you're late in the day at this point, find a good spot and camp. It'll be worth it. I think it was about noon or 1 by the time we got through the 4th canyons. Why is it called The Love Boat Gorge? You get to sing the theme from Love Boat the whole way through. Bonus points for "alternate lyrics".
|third camp. deep in Tshletshy back country|
|my sleeping bag goes in here|
|Scott M in watery bliss|
|pretty green in here|
|even the portaging is breathtaking!!|
|rain forest fog creepeth up the valley. entering Love Boat Gorge|
A few more portages probably and then the 5th set of canyons begins to appear. The Lower Canyons have a personality unto themselves. Certainly more challenging and technical, the Lower Canyons offer a seemingly endless maze of whitewater to appease even the 'gnarriest of the gnar' boater. If you aren't to the Lower Canyons by 1 or 2pm, do yourself a favor and camp out upstream. Give yourself most of the day to get through this section. Sure, you could bang it out by dark, but to enjoy these places and get a good shot or two, give yourself the better part of the day. There are many rapids.
|it's all good in Tshletshy|
|drink from the river, not nasty little springs|
|Scott Matthews - in the Olympic backcountry|
|scannin' the scene|
It's tough to see here, but look closely at the next couple shots. The "vegetation line" is actually a giant old growth that had been minding its own biznass, growing happily on the inside corner of the river bend. Til one day it fell over, only it was so massive... it fell uphill!! Now it rests on the top of the 30 foot high bank with the massive root sturcture dangling out in the air. Most of those trees up there are 'nursing' off the downed old growth. Doesn't get more 'gangster' than that.
And this was such a cool discovery. The next two photos show a line of volunteer maples which have managed to 'branch' their way down the hillside. 'Volunteering' is one way maples propagate and it was a truly amazing sight to see the entire hillside had slid, trees, rock and all, except this vertical line of volunteers. These trees were literally holding their part of the hillside in place. Nothing on either side. It must have taken hundreds of years for these trees to make their way down the hillside, mature, then have the entire hillside slide on both sides, except the ground their rooted to!! Badass. Nature is totally bad ass.
|...and the magic continues.|
|banana slugs play 'hard to get'|
|deep in the Lower Canyons|
|many more drops from here|
I forgot how many drops were in those canyons. Yep, it looks like we're gonna be burning daylight getting out of here. Did you see the 'vegetation line' on those canyon walls??? Man, something huge musta come through there. By the time we got through the Lower Canyons it was late. Busted and wet gear led us to a less than ideal decision of our splitting up. We all wanted to be at the take out, but 17 miles in an hour and a half seemed unlikely, at least for this busted boater. It was just us and 17 miles on the Queets. I wanted the take out, too. As the skies darkened we kept paddling. By 9:30 it was pretty dark.
|trying to make it to the take out|
10:00... I'm glad it was a clear night. The moon was especially gorgeous this evening. I wasn't feeling all that romantic, however. Hoping the "forested corridor" with the cool granite boulders where we were to take out was going to appear soon. These huge log jams were getting spooky.
10:30... it's freakin' dark, bro. Is this really a good idea? I'm paddling on 3000 cfs of laminar flow which is cruising in between and around big jams of wood in odd configurations. Big floods tear down the Queets valley seasonally and there are probably better rivers for a midnight float. This river routinely hits 150,000 cfs during the winter and carries a massive amount of wood downstream within that flow. It is cool to see how the gravel bars change and form. Cool, but not this late at night.
10:51... hey what happened to the moon? Why does everything look black without contour? Ooo, what's that "current" sound? Is that water rushing over gravel... or under a giant log jam I can't see? Okay, we're getting out. Look at that, a big gravel bar with a big log jam on it. Perfect. Camp and a fire.
It took a couple hours to warm up. I think it was extra cold because it was so clear out. We were pretty wet, too. Just from being out for 4 days. Slept pretty good that night. Woke up early. I don't think I even ate breakfast. We slowly packed up, got the fire going again for some pre-paddle toasting and pushed off for an unknown number of miles to get to the take out. We joked in camp in was 5 minutes downstream! 45 minutes later we rolled around a splashy left bend with some gorgeous, scoured out bedrock benches making a few very surfable waves. Unmistakeable!! We paddled a little ways down and POW!! ROCK CAIRNS!!! ...and a kayak. The first half of our group hadn't made it out either!! They were forced to camp as we were due to no visibility. We all made it out and had a great shuttle ride back to the Three Lakes Trailhead!! The easiest hour and a half of my life was smashed in the back of that truck.
|Scott M packs up at final camp|
|what log jams??|
|shuttle beverage of choice at 8 am Tuesday morning|
|Scott M and Ryan, back where we started from|
|Scotty's "happy place" on our layover day|
|good woods.. everywhere ya look!|
|the woods are indescribable and so very humbling|
|i ran out of words|
|three bears - is what I thought|
|portrait views at every turn|
|gettin' the shot of the dude 'gettin' the shot'!|
|The Olympics are simply irresistible|
|a very lovely 'woodsy' trail|
|fresh bear swipe|
|complete with poop on the trail|
|random O.P. critter|
Plan on a long 4 day trip in here. I would even recommend spending the day before.. cruising around the area, taking it all in. There is a lot to see here. The Quinault zone is pretty deep for all but locals and is the equivalent to any South American jungle you're gonna find with equally impressive flora and fauna. The critters, in general, are less poisonous. But stuff'll still hunt ya n' chomp on ya, so be careful. If you're coming here from anywhere south of Bellingham, drive around from the Olympia side. You can do 60mph most of the way and the roads are fairly straight. Going around the north side is slow and windy. Bring extra food!